three: my depression is a truth, not a battle

this is something that has always struck me as strange in the semantics and constructions around depression or any kind of serious illness.  the lines that people repeat over and over: she is battling with depression (or for others 'breast cancer', 'cancer', 'ms', etc) and even worse after someone has died, 'after a long battle with ___ she/he has passed away (...)'.  i mean, it's weird enough to have to conceive of the rest of my life as a battle, but for someone in the final stages of cancer who has to characterize the end of their life as a defeat... that has just always seemed really strange to me. only in the past year has the world these words create been really clear to me, and so i have conclusively decided that it is foolish.  my depression is not a battle.  

the dichotomy of victory and defeat creates an impossible world of both stigma and barriers.  i remember two summers ago i had the most horrible depressive episode in toronto and deciding then that i would have to be really open about my depression.  it literally took me over a year to be able to talk about depression with words that weren't just vague sylviaplathisms or small little references to sadness.  each time i tried to write about it i would find myself coming up with the most ridiculous posts that really could have been about anything at all.  one of the hardest things about it was that i was waiting for a great triumph.  i thought to myself "self, comma, these are the things that people like to hear about once they know we are safe, and the battle is over for now at least and we have won." so i spent all kinds of months waiting for that to happen and had small little remissions but other than that it just didn't happen.  without that victory it felt like my words had an incredible weight that i didn't want to release.  it was this strange condition on the conversations about depression which is basically just an advanced stigma, and a nuanced way to keep sadness at bay.  

i remember thinking to myself for a lot of months last year that i was just losing a battle.  it was a defeat.  depression is hard enough to talk about, but adding the little semantics of defeat is just a weird way to pretend that we have control over things we do not have control over.  i remember the crushing, gut-wrenching anxiety i felt at the idea of my pseudorelationship ending because (among other reasons, of course) i thought i had somehow stumbled upon the one person in the world who could look at my sadness.  my first real boyfriend was the first person i ever told about my depression, and his response was a simple "ok, but there is one condition, you need to never talk about this again."  i remember telling myself over and over as impending break-ups draw near that i was damaged, and as long as i was losing this battle i was something beyond love, in some weird darkness where no one's love could ever find me.  
this was all foolishness of course,  and luckily my most recent pseudorelationship did a tremendous job helping me realize that. that could be the most wonderful and helpful thing that anyone has ever done for me.  there is a weird an subtle power to it.    

after that, the only other thing i needed to know was that my depression is not a battle.  i never really doubted that the people of my life would respond in the most sincere and loving ways (iamsolucky), but the thought of having to unleash this horrible weight onto them, to just give them this darkness, always seemed selfish to me.  in my mind i was some terrific martyr, sparing my friends from darkness and defeat and waiting for light of any kind.  one of the most amazing people in my life who deals with depression told me that she thinks about telling people about her struggle as 'giving a gift'.  and then i read this and that felt really true:

“Someone I loved gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.”

- Mary Oliver, “The Uses of Sorrow”

and so,

three: depression is a truth, not a battle

depression is not a battle.  there is no great war, there are no weapons, there are no horses and bayonets, there are no hardhats no trenches and no landmines.  for those of you who cling to the figurative world, i'll try to shape some other (poorly formed) metaphor.  depression is like this heavy ghost around you.  there is no struggle or fight; it just never feels like that.  it is a heavy ghost: sometimes it holds you.  sometimes you hold her (mine is a girl).  and sometimes you just hold hands.  understanding depression in this way, as a truth and not a battle, makes talking about it a lot easier if that is something that you want to do.  but it will also help you deal with it.  depression is just something to work with.  trying to fight depression will not help.  it is a force.  and so use it.  that is all.  it is just this rogue and rebellious horse that you learn how to ride.  you direct it.  (obviously it isn't that easy.  mostly what i'm talking about here is meditative ways of dealing with depression, which is only something i've managed to do now that i am cozily ensconced in my own mental health).  this is obviously not to say let it wash over you and cede all control to your demons.  it is more about an active acceptance and shaping, a dual management that takes time and practice.  understand (without glorifying depression) that there is a small kind of truth in darkness, and a power that comes from knowing that this truth is not in the darkness itself but in how we live in it.  the goal is to hold hands.

initially i didn't think i would write this, because it seemed petty.  i mean, it is just a word.  but at the same time, i know that it kept me from figuring things out for a long time, which i guess i tried to show.  and maybe for some people it is different.  maybe some people need to conceive of their depression in that way, and it works for them.  it's not like i'm particularly qualified, or actually know what i'm talking about.  i just know what works for me.  


  1. Thank you for your post. No, you are right, depression is NOT a battle, at times I see it as a blessing... a place where healing is possible.

    Thank you for your post.

  2. I've always thought that was a stupid way of phrasing things, especially since it only seems to get applied to some conditions and not others. Good on you for saying this out loud... or, well, in writing.

  3. Thank you! This is a great insight for me. I can see it helping many people who live on the outside of depression to overcome prejudices like "kick the sadness to the curb", or "just smile".


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